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Backlash has continued over one week after a monument meant to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King’s legacy in Boston was unveiled to lukewarm applause at best.
The 20-foot tall, 40-foot wide “The Embrace” statue was unveiled Friday, January 13, on Boston Common, where King gave a speech on April 23, 1965, to a crowd of 22,000.
The statue was originally inspired by a photograph of King and Scott King which captured them hugging after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize.
When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.
Martin Luther King statue mocked relentlessly on social media
Despite its historical significance, the art piece, designed by Brooklyn-based conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas, only features the couple’s arms during the embrace and not their heads.
While some people defended the sculpture, others described it as hideous or disrespectful, with social media users posting memes saying it resembled a sex act.
Seneca Scott, a community organizer in Oakland, California, and cousin of Scott King, told CNN the statue was insulting to his family.
He previously described it as a “masturbatory metal homage” in an essay published by Compact Magazine.
Social media users offered alternatives, others doctored the sculpture to what the actual photo may have looked like.
“If you can look at it from all angles, and it’s probably two people hugging each other, it’s four hands. It’s not the missing heads that’s the atrocity that other people clamp onto that; it’s a stump that looked like a penis. That’s a joke,” Scott told CNN.
The artist jumped through hoop after hoop only for his work to be compared to a penis and poop
According to NBC News, once Thomas’ proposal for the project was accepted, the sculpture required several levels of approval from multiple organizations, including the Boston Art Commission and Boston Landmarks Commission.
Once the Boston Arts Council voted to approve the sculpture’s design in March 2021, the city excavated the land where the sculpture is placed, digging into it to ensure human bones or ancient artifacts were not misplaced.
In forming the massive bronze sculpture, Thomas also said he worked with the Walla Walla Foundry, a contemporary art fabricator based in Washington state, which rendered a 3D-printed model of the sculpture and molded it with bronze.
Once the sculpture was complete last spring, the company disassembled it into six pieces and finally shipped it to Boston.
Martin Luther King monument mixed reviews continue
While many were quick to label the statue a visual atrocity, Black scholars and other members of Dr. King’s family have defended it.
According to the Palm Beach Daily News, Martin Luther King III, the Kings’ eldest son, defended the monument, saying he thought “the artist did a great job.”
He continued, “I’m satisfied. Yeah, it didn’t have my mom and dad’s images but it represents something that brings people together. And in this day and age, when there’s so much division, we need symbols that talk about bringing us together.”
Artist stands by his sculpture
Hank Willis Thomas said he has no plans to modify or change the statue. “This is a piece that was selected by the people of Boston. This is not, ‘Hank just came and put something together,” Thomas said, according to one outlet. “Thousands of people worked on this. Thousands of people actually put it together.”
Thomas feels the “perspective” that critics are putting out there puts a damper on King’s legacy. “And, no one saw this, I would say, perverse perspective…to bring that to the King’s legacy and to dictate the making of art and the celebration of them is really strange to me.”
Reflecting on the King family legacy, Thomas told Time Magazine, “I just look at Bernice King, I look at Martin Luther King III and Dexter King, and the burden of responsibility and the burden of carrying on a legacy that they have done throughout their entire lives. And I don’t even get to think about myself. I’m in awe of it. Think about the daughters of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, who have this huge responsibility to carry on a legacy and tell a story. I’m honored to even be invited into the conversation.”